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Partner Blog

Information of use to those who serve private well owners.

FAQ: "Water from a Public Water Supply versus a Private Well?"

Question

What are the differences between getting water from a public water supply (PWS) versus from a private well?

Answer

The public water supply is regulated so that the water being served to their customers is safe to drink.  A private well is not regulated and as the well owner, it is their responsibility to make sure the water is safe to drink.

Water from a public water supply must be tested to ensure it meets the USEPA Safe Water Act Regulations. The water is sampled at regular intervals for priority contaminants as identified by the USEPA.  These harmful constituents all have maximum contaminant levels (MCL’s) that are allowed by law, so the public water supply can only serve water that is below the MCL’s for all of the priority contaminants.  The primary drinking water standards can be found here:  https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/table-regulated-drinking-water-contaminants. A private well generally has no legal requirements for water quality, and in general most health professionals recommend that the water quality of a private well meet the MCL’s, but that is simply a suggestion.  There may be some sampling requirements when a property is sold that has a well, and when a new well is drilled, but there is no continuing requirement to maintain a specific water quality of a private well like there is for a PWS.

A public water supply is required to have a responsible operator in charge (ROIC) who has a legal responsibility to make sure the water is safe. They have a water operator’s license, which they obtained by passing an operators exam, and they have to maintain that license by taking continuing education classes as required by their state/ jurisdiction.  A private well owner is solely responsible for the maintenance and safety of their water supply.

The homeowner pays a fee for their water when they are hooked up to a PWS.  That fee, spread across all of the customers of the PWS, pays for the operator and their staff, sampling costs, maintenance costs to provide water to the home, and for any treatment needed to remove harmful contaminants to below the levels identified by the MCL’s.  For a homeowner with a private well, you are solely responsible for all costs related to testing, maintaining, and running your water system.

If you have a choice, we recommend hooking up to a PWS.  Having a professional overseeing the water you drink is generally safer, and you are sharing the costs with everyone else on the same PWS.  HUD and FHA loans require that you look to a PWS for water, if it is feasible, for just that reason.  It ensures a safe water supply that is regulated.  Many private well owners are so because they have no choice, there is no PWS nearby to hook onto.  That’s ok, there are 14 million private wells in use in the US, and the vast majority provide a safe, steady supply of water.  It just means that a private well owner has to be a responsible steward of their well and water supply.  They have to understand how their well works, how to maintain their well, and what steps are necessary to ensure a safe water supply.